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Bipolar Disorder in the Workplace

By Crismelly Caso

Despite the fact that 1 in 5 American adults experience a mental illness every year, mental health is not something everyone feels comfortable talking about, especially not with their employers. Bipolar disorder—a disorder associated with episodes of mood wings ranging from depressive lows to manic highs—is one such condition that can be, without treatment and accommodations, particularly challenging to manage in the workplace.  Moreover, the stigma associated with bipolar disorder often impedes some individuals from publicly exercising their rights under federal, state and city laws.

Many may think that bipolar disorder is rare but, in the United States alone, there are approximately 5.7 million people suffering from the disorder.  In fact, it is the sixth leading cause of disability in the world.  There are two types of the bipolar disorder: Bipolar I and Bipolar II.  Bipolar I involves periods of severe mood episodes from mania to depression, while Bipolar II disorder is a milder form of mood elevation, involving milder episodes of hypomania that alternate with periods of severe depression.

One in twenty-five adults experience a mental illness that substantially interferes or limits one or more major life activity.  Under the American Disability Act of 1990 (“ADA”), bipolar disorder is a disability that substantially limits a major life activity.  Since bipolar disorder may be a disability, those with it are entitled to have a reasonable accommodation, which employers cannot deny them.

In 2003, in EEOC v. Voss Electric Company, the EEOC charged Voss Electric Company (“Voss”) with violating the ADA by terminating a long-time employee at its Oklahoma City facility.  The employee needed in-patient care due to his bipolar disorder.  Instead of following the employee’s doctors’ recommendations and allowing the employee to have time off, Voss terminated him.  The Court found sufficient evidence that the former employee’s mental illness did not disqualify him for the position and that his requested accommodation was reasonable.  Ultimately, the parties reached an agreement, settling for $90,000.

At The Harman Firm, LLP, we believe that those discriminated against because of their mental illnesses should have an advocate and legal representation.  If you believe you have been discriminated against because of your mental illness, contact The Harman Firm, LLP.

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